I'll Take Manhattan

On October 23, 2007, in Food and Drink, by peterb

I’ve been wanting to do this recipe as a video blog, but due to an uncharacteristic bout of responsibility, I sent Sony back their loaner HD camcorder and I just haven’t been able to work up the enthusiasm to use my somewhat dilapidated Canon. So this is a story I will have to tell in words.

Earlier this spring, in my article Rehabilitating Vermouth I extolled the virtues of vermouth, particularly sweet vermouth. Too many people who should know better refuse to give vermouth its due. The proper martini is as much about good vermouth as it is about good gin, and if you believe otherwise you are a visigoth.

The problem, of course, is in finding good vermouth. Cinzano is serviceable on the sweet side, but not really transcendant, and Noilly Prat is the standard great dry vermouth. But can’t we do better than that?

It turns out we can. I’m happy to report that, at least as far as sweet vermouth goes, the solution is to buy American. Quady winery’s Vya sweet vermouth is a revelation. Redolent of cinnamon, herbs, and properly balancing sweet and bitter, it brings a much needed freshness to this oft-neglected class of drink.

The Vya is a bit expensive ($17.99 for a 750 ml bottle at my local liquor store), but if you taste it side by side with one of the European brands you will agree that it’s worth it. It stands up on its own over ice (as always, I suggest a glass of vermouth and a small plate of anchovies and good green olives to really open your eyes.) But it works well as a mixer, too, and the classic drink we think of when talking about sweet vermouth is the Manhattan.

The Manhattan, like the Martini, has suffered from spirits inflation over the years. Perhaps because the vermouth on most people’s shelves is stale and syrupy, the typical Manhattan you’ll find in a bar is really a big glass of bourbon with a few drops of vermouth and a disgusting maraschino cherry. We can do better than that. Here’s my contribution.

Peterb’s Manhattan

  • 1 shot Rye Whiskey. I’m using Old Overholt for this at the moment. I use rye simply because I prefer the bitter edge to that of bourbon.
  • 1 shot Vya sweet vermouth.
  • 2 dashes Angostura Bitters

Stir with ice. Serve (optionally, strain after stirring into a glass without ice, and garnish according to your preference).

There’s a school of thought that thinks a manhattan should be served with an orange slice. I’ve never liked this. It’s inappropriate and utterly beside the point; I can only imagine that the person that came up with this also dreamed up the idea that one should put a sprig of parsley on a steak. If you think you would miss the orange, however, let me suggest an alternative: add to the finished drink the merest splash — just a drop or two — of Cointreau.



9 Responses to “I'll Take Manhattan”

  1. Alex says:

    Interesting recipe, I can’t say I have tried a Manhattan with Rye, although I’ve heard that is the purest form. The traditional cocktail for my family is the Perfect Manhattan: a generous portion of Early Times over ice, with I’d say 1/2 shot dry vermouth, 1/2 sweet vermouth, disgusting cherry, and a dab of cherry juice. Delicious delicious cherry. Stir. Perhaps not as sophisticated or bold as above, but delicious and will get your motor running for sure!

  2. Nelson says:

    Vya is indeed a lovely vermouth. Their dry white vermouth is excellent, too. Mix it with Hendrick’s gin (with a slightly cucumber flavour) for a martini that tastes like something more than gin shots.

    1:1 sounds awfully sweet to me. Harrington’s book recommends 4:1, but I agree with you that’s basically drinking straight whiskey. His web site recommended 2:1, though, which sounds about right to me (bit early in the day to sample). Curse Wired/Lycos for finally shoving Cocktail Time offline. archive.org still has it, though, here’s his page on the Manhattan: http://web.archive.org/web/20030415111413/hotwired.lycos.com/cocktail/98/34/index3a.html

  3. peterb says:

    It is indeed sweet, but I’m operating from the principle that the vermouth is good vermouth and you want to taste it.

    Of course, I drink vermouth by itself on the rocks sometimes. So there you go.

  4. Andrew says:


    Thanks to the miracle of Google Alert, Peter’s post has come to the attention of Vya World Headquarters and we are, as you might imagine, most pleased with your discussion.

    Throwing in our two cents:

    If you can’t find rye, try canadian.
    As we see it, 2:1 whiskey to vermouth is about right.
    For the ultimate garnish, substitute an Amarena cherry for the Maraschino

    Our preferred vermouth aperitif is:

    The Vya:

    2 parts dry Vya
    1 part sweet Vya
    on the rocks
    garnish with a twist or zest of orange and/or lemon peel

  5. SR says:

    I swear by the rye-vya-angostura combination (2:1:a few dashes), and have been making Manhattans thusly for friends and neighbors to generally good results. If said friend or neighbor happens to be a gal, I’ll throw in a cherry as they seem to appreciate them more.

    I’m also a big fan of the vya dry, though martini purists will likely find it too floral for a classic martini and olive combination. I like Nelson’s suggestion to try it with Hendricks, matching floral with floral, but I’d have to garnish it with something like a twist of lemon.

  6. Hey now, this isn’t fair. I have already admitted publicly that I was wrong about vermouth — I’ve seen the error of my ways.

    Even so though, I have trouble imagining that I’d like a 1:1 combination, or even 2:1. 4:1 sounds just about right. Guess I’m more American than I realized.

    Up here in the wilds of Butler County, there’s no Vya. I’ll have to explore the more sophisticated PLCB outlets farther south. I look forward to trying orange bitters in place of the Angostura — not just because I’m a contrarian, but because I suspect a hint of orange will play nicely with the rye.

  7. I’m back with a field report. I found Vya in Butler County after all — Cranberry Township. I’ve experimented with ratios, and to my surprise the 2:1 balance turns out to be my very favorite.

    I look forward to trying the dry Vya too. This stuff is awesome.

    Thank you very much, Peterb, for setting me straight on the vermouth issue. I salute you.

  8. pgreer says:

    where do you get the Vya vermouth in Pittsburgh, I cannot find it listed on the palcb site.

  9. peterb says:

    In the online database it’s listed under the winery’s name, which is “Quady”.

    Here is a link: search.